WTF! It’s another theatre festival!!

GUEST POST: Lucas Stibbard makes theatre, sometimes as an actor, sometimes as a director/facilitator, sometimes as a teacher and, memorably, once as a stage-manager. He has done so for himself as well as for companies such as Bell Shakespeare, Queensland Theatre Company, State Theatre Company of South Australia, La Boite, Metro Arts, DeBase Productions, Hothouse Theatre, Kite, Queensland University of Technology, the Aboriginal Center for the Performing Arts, the Queensland Arts Council and Windmill Theatre Company. Lucas is one-quarter of the Escapists whose shows include Attack of the Attacking Attackers!, boy girl wall, and the in-development Revenge of the Revenging Revengers!. Lucas studied at USQ. For context, some of his favourite shows have been – Gatz (Elevator Repair Service), Anna Karenina (Shared Experience), C-90 (Daniel Kitson), Roadkill (Splintergroup) and 11&12 (Theatre des Bouffes du Nord) – so if you didn’t enjoy those you probably shouldn’t trust his (highly subjective) reviews. He is partial to cardigans, gin and his wife.  Follow him on Twitter @LucasStibbard

WORLD THEATRE FESTIVAL at Brisbane’s The Powerhouse

Is there anything the Powerhouse doesn’t want to take a crack at? Comedy Festival? Check. Queer Film Festival? Check. Jazz Festival? Check. Cabaret Festival? Well they did put on something that looked suspiciously like one when the real Cabaret fest moved … anyway point is, adding to the litany of cultural extravaganzas offered by the Brisbane Powerhouse we have the World Theatre Festival, or WTF if you want to look edgy and impress the kids (it’s almost swearing ooooohhhh!).

Starting last week and continuing its programming till Sunday, the Powerhouse is playing host to a number of exciting acts from around the country (ok here and Melbourne) and around the world (well, the UK).  So I guess you could call it the “Theatre from here, Melbourne and the UK festival,” but it doesn’t have the same edgy-ness, does it?

Week One saw Dublin’s Pan Pan Theatre present Oedipus Loves You and Daniel Kitson present another of his one-man shows 66a Church Road: A Lament Made of Memories and Kept in Suitcases, a pair of audio-based works by Rotozaza – Wondermart and Etiquette (they run both weeks) and workshops by Pan Pan’s Gavin Quinn and Rotozaza. The Rotozaza workshop was advertised as being 7 hours in duration, not bad for a free event.

Oedipus Loves You was by almost all reports stunning – an anarchic take on Sophocles’ classic tragedy, complete with live video mixing, “thrash metal” performed live by the cast, nudity and a whole lot more po-mo jiggery-pokery. I feel bad about missing something that sounded so spectacular. Folks I’ve spoken to in the last couple of days have used phrases like “ best show I’ve seen in AGES,”  “ the guy with his genitals tucked back in the first five minutes was confronting;” and “awesome, but insane.”  One friend went two nights in a row and saying he would have gone another three if he had been given the chance.  Sadly not everyone was so keen, attendance was mixed – according to one of the crew the Friday night audience numbered in the 30s, which is a pity considering this a world-class show in a venue that seats over 400. I’m not sure how well the last performance was attended on Sunday but, given that I had been offered tickets on Saturday night and again on Sunday, I’m guessing they were still looking for a crowd.  To be fair, another friend summed it up as nothing particularly new:  “ Lots of contemp (sic) theatre ticks in boxes,” so maybe I would have said, “Oh…it’s that show.”  I guess I’ll never know.

I didn’t go to Oedipus on Sunday night because I had a date with my beloved Daniel Kitson.  Yes, I am biased.  Kitson is no stranger to the Powerhouse, having shared with us numerous of his shows, both stand-up and story based, including C-90.  At 10pm Daniel Kitson will be taking tea and blowing minds and The Ballad of Rodger and Grace.  Blessed with a wonderful insight into humanity’s foibles, and possessed of a very specific style of performance and delivery (which is due in no small part to his multiple speech impediments) Kitson is a singularly funny and clever comedian.

The show he brought to WTF! is a love-letter to his home of 6 years (the address in the title, 66a Church Road), and between recordings of him speaking of memories of the place (and a suggestion of another story that may or may not be a romance with a mysterious unnamed woman), Kitson takes us on a journey through the search for a home, the joys of finding one, and the true nostalgic heart-ache for the idea of a home that we’ll never ever return to – a home that inhabits our memories and whose physical shape keeps things even we have forgotten.  It’s achingly sad and wonderfully funny, and I came away from the show grinning like a loon and pining for a place to live that wasn’t just a house.  It was his last night, and Mr Kitson went to the effort of thanking the Powerhouse crew and FOH staff, but then went on to say he wasn’t going to thank the person responsible for the poster. The poster in question shows a suitcase and little else; perhaps he had something else in mind.

Sunday also saw the Melbourne’s Suitcase Royale (whose show Ballad of Backbone Joe opened Wednesday as part of WTF Week 2) playing a spot at the Powerhouse’s regular Sunday Live Spark event, which is comprised of free music in the afternoons and stand-up comedy in the early evening.

I’d not seen the Suitcase Royale perform music before as my only experience with them prior had been their junkyard-theatre show Felix Listens to the World at a fringe festival a few years ago, but I was excited to see what their singular and wonderfully anachronistic brains would deliver. It turned out to be a mixture of country and rockabilly-tinged tales of lost loves, break-ups and booze. The boys play a mixture of instruments including upright bass and banjo and, excluding some fairly average between-song banter, it was a good warm-up to their show Wednesday night. They also all sport some of the finest facial hair since the word “chap” stopped being a descriptor for a gent, and started to connote backless pants.

I may have been more enthusiastic about their Sunday afternoon music slot, had the next band on not been Gentle Ben and His Sensitive Side, one of the most criminally under-appreciated local acts ever. I actually found myself having one of those “why aren’t these guys bigger” conversations between songs. From their opener “Son of Drowning Man”  they had created a frightening level of focus and energy in the room. What had only minutes ago been a nice bit of background played by some talented (if somewhat shambolic) performers, had become a tight and hugely energetic set featuring Ben Corbett cavorting and wailing in strange and wonderful ways. It was the first time I have seen them in daylight and I imagine one of the most sober shows they have ever performed, being, as it was at around 4pm.  I looked over at one stage to see the Suitcase Royale boys staring at the early afternoon spectacle of a group of men rounding the horn of forty putting on such a great show – swaggering, pouring with sweat, and oozing machismo. Ok so it wasn’t strictly part of the festival, but it was ace.

On a tip from a friend I undertook Etiquette, having gone to Rotozaza’s website and looked at the clip from Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie.  I’m glad I did.  Don’t ask me why, just check it out (it’ll feed the experience). I don’t want to spoil it too much but the gist is that two people, in this instance a stranger and myself, wearing headphones, shared an exchange that bridged the gap between performer and viewer (in that we were both). Following instructions on the headsets we shared an intimate transaction that was ours and ours alone (to the extent that you can have a private moment in a public place). It was beautiful, exciting, initially awkward and more than a little daunting to enter into, but thoroughly worthwhile.  Oh, and you don’t have to chose a stranger as your partner.  Rotozaza note on their site that some folk feel that a stranger enhances the experience, whilst others claim the same of choosing to do it with someone you know.  Thursday I’m looking forward to tackling Rotozaza’s other work, Wondermart, in which participants, again wearing headphones, go on a guided journey through the nearby supermarket.

Describing the Stuck Pigs Squealing’s The Eisteddfod is a difficult prospect. The show has been around for a few years, and if I had a dollar for every person who had seen it in one of it’s southern seasons (they’re based in Melbourne and it has played Sydney) and who come back raving about it … well I’d have a decent amount of walking-about cash. Every time I asked someone to describe the experience it would come down to flustered snatches and impressions of moments before culminating in variations on, “It’s really good; you should go see it.”  I could try to be reductionist, looking at various components, talking about its uneasy combination of naive exploration, desperation, and the suggestion of incest; its childlike cruelty and hall of mirrors role-playing as characters play characters for both us and for each other.  I could go for an easy “David Lynch meets Wes Anderson telling a modern fairytale written by Todd Solondz,” but I hate those as they don’t really tell you anything except that the person speaking has seen too many films.  I could tell you about the Powerhouse Theatre managing to feel intimate due to the reduced seating capacity and curtaining required to help contain the beautifully designed four metre by four metre playbox that houses almost every second of the action, but nothing I do will really do it justice. Writer Lally Katz has a truly singular voice, managing to give you something familiar and yet alien, veering between intentionally banal and disturbing.  The text, like the productions sound design, is a slippery mix of saccharin-sweet and bitter almond poisonous prose.  Luke Mullins is stunning – his performance as the cruel, fragile, Rupert Bear-suited golden man-child is a technical masterpiece.  I suggest you go see it … See, I told you – snatches and impressions followed by a flustered recommendation to check it out.

I had planned to make use of the programming and slot two shows into Wednesday night- the Suitcase Royale’s Ballad of Backbone Joe at 7pm and Stuck Pigs Squealing’s The Eisteddfod at 8.15, but it turned out that getting from work to Powerhouse to be there by 7 was too much of an ask.   I shudder to think of ever going into the Visy Theatre as a latecomer (two sides of the audience face the entrance to the space, which is right next to the playing area, so you an unwitting and annoying participant in anything that happens to be going on at the time).  There’s just no way to be subtle about it, so I waited to see the second show and wondered how Hamlet opening night was going at La Boite.  Suffice to say that having seen Suitcase Royale previously, I was disappointed to miss another chance to engage with their special brand of junkyard storytelling, full as it is of humor and whimsy. So I booked another ticket for tomorrow. I’m sure I won’t be sorry.

Thursday night I’m seeing Performance Anxiety – Bryan Lucas’ show about “our age of anxiety”, I saw a work in progress version of this show a while ago and if its anything as entertaining as that version I’m in for a treat.

This Thursday, during the day, another pair of workshops are being offered (I’m going to both).  The first is a two-hour session with Lally Katz, writer of the Eisteddfod, talking about writing for the stage and the processes she employs. This is followed by an hour with the Suitcase Royale. The description for the Suitcase Royale workshop is maddeningly vague, but I’m sure it’ll be interesting.  Both events are free, in fact, all the workshops have been.

Sunday brings us the close of WTF and a reading of Dan Eady’s Super Domestic of Wonder, a scorching study of “the depths of human identity.”  It comes with a warning – very frequent strong language.   If earlier drafts are anything to go by (the work was read at Metro Arts Free Range Festival in 2009) the warning is ap,t but doesn’t fully communicate the savage and hilarious cruelty of Eady’s wit.  (I’m more than a little pumped about it).

So there you go, apologies for missing Oedipus and Rotozaza and Gavin Quinn’s workshops but I’ve managed to explore wonderful worlds of 66a Church Road, The Eisteddfod and Etiquette already and will be getting to two workshops, a reading, the other audio-show Wondermart and another two shows (Performance Anxiety and The Ballad of Backbone Joe) before the week is out.  All this for an incredibly reasonable amount of money – a five show ticket cost just $120 full price and $100 for concessions. Wondermart and Etiquette were, again a very reasonable $20 each or, $10 if you showed stubs for the other shows as a season ticket-holder or a workshop attendee. This all means I will have seen or heard and interacted with 6 shows and been to 2 workshops for only a little over the cost of a ticket to the poorly prepared and grossly over-priced Rogue’s Gallery event at Sydney Festival.

All things considered, this festival is a bit of a winner … fingers crossed it’ll happen again next year.

Next week’s Greenroom guest post is by Dave Burton who reviews Hamlet directed by David Berthold and currently playing at The Roundhouse for La Boite Theatre

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